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FusionDesign: Carmen Lerm

Cape-based agency draws on international inspiration for local excellence.

Monique Verduyn

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Carmen Lerm of Fusion Design

The Netherlands is one of the world’s hubs of great modern design, a centre of innovation and experimentation in architecture, urban planning, industrial design, and graphic design. The Dutch are known for a prolific design culture that is evident in all aspects of everyday life, from the ticket you buy for the bus to your seat in a restaurant and the cup you drink your coffee out of.

It’s no surprise then that having completed a degree in Applied Graphic Design at Stellenbosch, Carmen Lerm decided that the best way to gain on-the-job experience was to spend a year in the visual communication capital.

“Dutch design agencies offer young people the opportunity to work and learn, paying them a small stipend,” says Lerm. “I got the opportunity to work for four different agencies in one year, which exposed me to the world’s latest trends in a way that would have been impossible in South Africa.”

On her return, Lerm joined Bates and then moved to J Walter Thompson’s Service Station where the focus was on below-the-line work.In 1999, she realised that the best way for her to apply what she had learnt about beauty and innovation would be to start her own business.

Using a life policy as collateral she went to the bank and requested an overdraft. It was declined, but persistence paid off and months later she eventually secured a R10 000 overdraft facility. She put the money towards her own design agency, Fusion Design.“My experience with the banks taught me that you cannot be deterred when someone says ‘no’ to you,” Lerm says.

“Give it a couple of months, go back to the same branch, and you may find a new set of staff who are more open to your ideas.” Two years later Lerm’s sister Nadia, an artist, joined the business. She brought to the studio a new creative and super-organised edge. It became clear that the growing studio needed its own premises, and so Fusion Design moved to its first premises in Woodstock, Cape Town.

“These were humble beginnings,” Lerm recalls. “We paid R2000 a month for 50 square metres of space. But that space provided the room we needed to grow and we began to bring in more staff and to expand our client base.”

In December 2007 Lerm bought office space in Millennium Business Park at Century City, and is now looking to expand once more. Fusion Design’s client list includes big names like MTN Banking, Metropolitan Health Group, Caltex, Chevron, Buccaneers School Shoes, RBS, TNS Research Surveys, the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, EasyPay, Hylton Ross and City Sightseeing.

Lerm attributes the success of the award-winning agency to a few simple rules. To get the best from your team, she says, you have to ensure every process and every department is integrated, and that all are focused on a single strategy. “The entire team must live the brand, its values and its ideology.”

She also surrounds herself with specialists and a support team of people she can trust. “It’s vital to have a big pool of resources at your disposal so that you can call on the right people for the job every time,” she adds. “In that way you keep customers happy and always have them coming back for more.”

A visual communication specialist, Lerm also keeps inconstant verbal contact with customers and prospects, whether it’s via email, a phone call, or the company newsletter. One of the factors that have distinguished her business is her constant reinvestment into the business – on people, systems, processes,equipment and training.

The level 2 BEE-accredited agency takes on four students every year. These young people are brought in to shadow experienced designers and other team members.“There are so many young people seeking employment,” Lerm says. “Many of them have absolutely no idea of how to behave or interact in the work environment. Some of our recruits are awkward and barely capable of expressing themselves when they join us, but by the time they leave they are equipped to confidently enter the world of work. I believe that because I was given that chance, it’s only right that I make similar opportunities available here.”

Fusion Design has also created an art movement called Isibindi,which means “courage”, and forms the pillar of its social investment programme.“Many people are taught skills, but they are never exposed to a rich, nurturing and inspiring visual environment.

In our creative design studio we inspire more than 1 200 people annually to develop their creative skills.”The Isibindi calendar, created to showcase the creative talents of the Fusion Design team, is also used for the benefit of the company’s community upliftment programme. The team won a silver award at the Stuttgart International Calendar Exhibition in 2006, the highest accolade ever for a local entrant. Contact +27 861 321 777; www.fusiondesign.co.za

Monique Verduyn is a freelance writer. She has more than 12 years’ experience in writing for the corporate, SME, IT and entertainment sectors, and has interviewed many of South Africa’s most prominent business leaders and thinkers. Find her on Google+.

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25 Of The Most Successful Business Ideas In South Africa

Find out who’s making waves in numerous industries and how they managed to differentiate themselves in local and international industries.

Nicole Crampton

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“Disruption is all about risk-taking, trusting your intuition, and rejecting the way things are supposed to be. Disruption goes way beyond advertising, it forces you to think about where you want your brand to go and how to get there,” says Richard Branson.

South Africa has its fair share of innovative and disruptive businesses taking both local and international industries by storm. From cutting edge space technology to reimagined logistics, and innovative business models, here are 25 of the most successful business ideas in South Africa:

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Colin Timmis Says ‘Position Yourself For Success By Starting With The Numbers’

People pay first who they feel pressure from, so people will pay you when they feel pressure from you.

CEOwise

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Entrepreneur Colin Timmis founded South Africa’s first cloud accounting practice in 2011, Real Time Accounting. Then, a few years after being appointed as South Africa’s first Xero partner Colin became Xero Country Manager South Africa. Xero is the emerging global leader of online accounting software that connects small businesses to their advisors and other services.

Related: Pat Pillai On How He’s Helped Over 5000 Entrepreneurs Using 3 Key Steps

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Two 20 Year Olds Reshape Entrepreneur Landscape With New Social Investment Platform

The Merge vision is to become the ‘go to’, digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors, and to truly make a difference in the world.

Merge Connect

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It’s no secret that finding the right investor for your venture is a challenge that most entrepreneurs face. The current process of finding investment is one that is outdated, and limits entrepreneurs due to a lack of time, and network that is needed to find the right investor. But, this doesn’t have to be the case in today’s digital society, says Zander Matthee and Brandon Bate, co-founders of Merge.

“By making the Internet the middleman, we are able to connect with each other much simpler and faster than before” was Zander’s response. “We have taken advantage of this, and have created a digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors” added Brandon.

Merge is a social platform that connects entrepreneurs and investors. It aims to simplify, refine and accelerate the process of finding investment for entrepreneurs, and the process of finding investment opportunities for investors. From idea to developed, the platform allows entrepreneurs to present a brief outline of their venture to a network of all investor types. While doing this, entrepreneurs are able to browse through, and connect with investor profiles that suit their requirements.

Related: 8 Codes Of Success That Helped Priven Reddy of Kagiso Interactive Media Achieve A Networth Of Over R4 Billion

From Private Investors to Venture Capital, and everything in between, Merge allows all investor types to join. Investors have the opportunity to personalise their feed to suit their investment preferences, and will be able to connect with innovative businesses – that are looking for investment – at their fingertips. Only once there is a mutual interest in each other, are users able to enter a secure private chat where they can discuss further and share documents under the protection of a digital NDA.

The two boys became good friends during their time in high school at St Stithians Boys College. However, it was only in their last year, 2016, that they decided to pursue their dreams and create the platform. They didn’t know how to code, so rather ironically, they needed some form of investment to get the platform off the ground.

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“We knew we had a mountain to climb, but we believed in our vision and that we were really trying to make a difference, and if we could get others to see that, they would be onboard.” said Zander.

Related: Lessons From The Rich And Famous: Manage Your Money Like Oprah To Avoid Going Into Debt Like Nicholas Cage

Chris Peters is one of these individuals that bought into their vision, and became Merge’s first investor. As a successful entrepreneur and part time investor , Chris saw how much value the platform could bring to all entrepreneurs and investors alike. His marketing and strategic background gave him insight into how Merge could play a vital role in a lucrative space, Brand involvement.

“Entrepreneurship and SME development are two key factors that drive economic growth in developing countries like South Africa. That is why brands are currently getting involved, and looking to support entrepreneurs through various means. We have built a platform that allows these brands to successfully market, and execute on the programmes they have created to assist entrepreneurs.” said Chris

Merge was created to assist all entrepreneurs and investors in finding exactly what they are looking for, regardless of age, race, sex, financial position or social status. That is why anybody can sign-up as an entrepreneur. As long as you are determined and willing to work for your dreams. For too long has the investor space been seen as an “elite club for the select few”, and Merge is here to change that. Whether you’ve gotten your bonus at the end of the year and looking for new investment opportunities, or are an active investor, you can sign-up. Whether you’re currently working, or a retired industry leader, you can join as a mentor.

Their vision is to become the ‘go to’, digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors, and to truly make a difference in the world.

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